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The Essay
Show #401
David Gunn

"Fight Of The Century!" Hundreds of gaudy neon lights flashed the bold pronouncement in giant letters on the marquee of Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York. Below, posters advertising the fight in more detail plastered the box office windows. "Forget the Thrilla in Manila, the World Wrestling Federation's SmackDown XI, even the great tag team title bout of Marciano and Lewis vs Rothschild and Carnegie," they boasted; "nothing will ever compare to ... Hearty Trenchermania!"

It was a no-holds-barred battle between opposing trenchermen--from the Latin trincare, "the pleasure of the table"--to determine no less than the food eating champion of the world. Thousands of regional competitions from every corner of the world over the past two years had eliminated all but two rivals, and they were here tonight ready to battle to the gluttonous end.

Outside the Garden, all was quiet (except for the customary 98-decibel street noise). The box office was closed; the fight had been sold out for weeks. A few desperate gastronomes stopped passers-by to inquire of extra tickets, offering thousands of calories for them, but no entry pass was forthcoming. Inside, however, the jam-packed sports arena was electric with anticipation.

A warm up match between two professional wine tasters was in progress. Few in the crowd paid it any heed, even after it deteriorated into a spirited food fight in which hurled pot pies marinated in white wine reached the balcony. And when the referee proclaimed a draw, many in the audience booed lustily and pelted the three of them with the remains of the pies.

A zaftig woman wearing nothing but a TV Dinner climbed into the ring and held up a sign that announced the main bout. The audience immediately turned supportive, rewarding the woman with a chorus of whistles and applause. Then the announcer slipped through the ropes into the ring and grabbed hold of a microphone that dropped from the ceiling. At a nod from him, the scorekeeper rang the bell and the crowd settled down a bit. "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the single-elimination bout that will determine the food eating champion of the world, the no-holds-barred Hearty Trenchermania!" The crowd cheered, then peered towards the two dressing rooms on opposite sides of the arena from which the two opponents and their entourage now entered. The announcer continued. "From Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, short order chef of the Catbox Café, wearing a gold lamé lobster bib and weighing 442 pounds, Mr. Duane Duodenum!" Cheers erupted from his fans as he sauntered down the aisle to his corner, his fingers raised in a V for victory symbol. "And from Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire, founder of the Mr. Creosote Culinary Institute, wearing the dashiki apron and weighing 629 pounds, it's the Braunschweiger Bomber." A boombox played the theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle as a ponderously large man in a stained, white frock lumbered down the aisle opposite. He leapt up and down, dancing to the beat, but more resembled Willie the Whale trying to tango. From a different but no less enthusiastic camp of supporters came an animated ovation and an attempt at the wave, and the Bomber saluted them in response. Duodenum's fans booed, and someone flung a package of Weight-Watchers prune Danish into the ring. The Bomber snarled, stomped on the pastry and shook his fist threateningly at the audience. His trainer jumped into the ring and escorted him back to his corner, one sneaker leaving a trail of doughy spoor on the canvas.

The scorekeeper rang the bell again and the announcer said "Ladies and gentlemen, please refrain from tossing anything at the foodgilists or you will be tossed out of the Garden. This is a simple elimination, ten-course match. First man to stop eating, loses." As he spoke, a crew of culinary attendants placed in the middle of the ring a table and two chairs. More attendants brought a pair of huge hot dishes atop trivets and set them on the table. The announcer briefly examined the arrangement, nodded approval, and concluded, "It's showtime!" He climbed out of the ring as the referee entered to the accompaniment of the opening bell. The two gluttons strode to the table and sat down on opposite sides, glaring at one another. The zaftig woman removed the covers from the food containers and both men leaned forward expectantly, sniffing. Blancmange, extra thick--and easily six gallons of it. What a way to start a food-off!

The crowd roared as the hearty trenchermen set to devouring the puddinglike concoction. Both started with standard cutlery, but Bomber soon switched to a ladle. A few seconds later, Duane was cramming the sweet comestible into his maw with a spatula.

The bell rang. The two men pushed their plates away and sat back. The referee checked them, then held them up for the audience to see. Both were empty, licked clean. The crowd roared. The crew of culinary attendants cleared and then re-provisioned the table.

"Ding!" Round two. Again the woman removed the covers and the two combatants sniffed at the contents. Lamb brains burritos, a dozen each. A few people in the audience quailed and looked away, but Duane and the Bomber both attacked the culinary opus voraciously. Duane again wielded a spatula, but this time Bomber just used his hands to stuff the burritos into his mouth. He swallowed the first four whole, precipitating howls of protest from Duodenum's trainer and fans. Trenchermania rules called for all food to be at least partially masticated, but each time the referee tried to peer into his mouth, Bomber looked away. Finally exasperated, the referee signaled a penalty. Now the Braunschweiger Bomber's rooters loudly inveighed. But the match continued, and when a bell sounded the end of the round, both plates were again devoid of leftovers.

Rounds three, four, five and six provided more fare of singularly acquired taste, and each time both trenchermen were up to their Clean Plate Club tasks. Round seven's sweetbread zabaglione proved to be too much for Duane, as painful borborygmi forced him to call for a Beano supplement, which likewise, of course, called for a penalty.

Round eight's rack of radicchio didn't phase either gastronomic warrior, however it was evident that by the beginning of round nine's giblet dim sum that both men's appetites were beginning to flag.

Nearly spent from a constant barrage of cheering, the crowd was subdued as the bell sounded for round ten. The woman uncovered the final two containers of food and Duane and the Bomber again sniffed the contents, but for once neither dived in voraciously. What was it? It was a murky swill and small lumps of something occasionally broke its frothy surface. Whatever it was, it didnít exactly beckon them. Duane stuck a finger into the mixture and warily touched it to his lips. He frowned, turned a bright shade of blue-black, and promptly keeled over. Half of the audience gasped; the other half cheered, for all the Bomber had to do now was to down the most infinitesimal round-ten morsel to be declared food eating champion of the world. Impetuously, he plucked one of the floating lumps from the swill, popped it in his mouth and swallowed. Then he stood up and, with a big grin on his face, held his arms up in victory to the raucous cheers of his supporters.

But, hold on a minute. The referee didn't see him chew his food, and he demanded that the Bomber comply with Trenchermania rules. The crew of culinarians climbed back into the ring and held down the Bomber. With one hand, the zaftig woman scooped up a steamy spoonful of the something and yanked open his mouth with her other. She held the spoon under his nose. Bomber inhaled. Beads of sweat formed on his brow; his eyes rolled up into their sockets; and he fainted. The announcer climbed back into the ring and, much to the disapprobation of the audience, declared the contest a nine-round draw.

You may draw your own conclusions as to how this story applies to this 401st episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, but first wait till the show's menu is fleshed out by our own musical cuisinart, Kalvos.